Ten Years of Alzheimer’s Part II

sunset girl

Because we were only casual friends at first, I didn’t notice the subtle changes that might have been appearing in Eve’s personality for quite some time. I believe her husband asked me to prepare the long-term care insurance policy because he knew she was going to need it. He knew what Alzheimer’s looked like because of their experience with his mother-in-law. She had lived with them for some time before Eve couldn’t handle it anymore.

Eve told me that she was grateful to a former sister-in-law who took her mother in and was paid to care for her until the end of her life. Some of the stories she told me about her mother helped me understand some of the changes that occurred with Eve, even though they were different. Her mother would ask her for money frequently even though she had no need for it or any way to spend it. After her passing, Eve found that her mother, who had been a professional seamstress, had made a false bottom to a kleenex box cover and hidden all her money there. I wonder if it gave her security? She told me her mother was a very sweet lady and easy to take care of, except that she would wander during the night into their bedroom and scare them. She would go through cabinets and drawers, taking things out and putting them back in without knowing what she was looking for. She, also, left the house without them knowing she was gone. Luckily, nothing tragic ever happened, but I think the constant attention that was required was more than Eve could bear.

Beyond her lack of trust for most people, especially men, which I assumed was the way she had always been, I didn’t recognize any unusual behavior in Eve until over a year after her husband passed. Around the time she arranged for the cruise with her friends, things started to disappear. She told me one day that two rings were missing. She was sure the cleaning lady had taken them. She didn’t want to accuse her outright, but told the woman they were missing and that her insurance company was going to investigate. She thought that would scare her into putting them back. It didn’t. Soon after that, she accused a friend of stealing her watch. She lost the friend in the process. I was observing the behavior and assuming that dementia was setting in. I was sure no one had stolen anything from her.

About six months after that, she decided that she wanted to sell her home that she and her husband had lived in for over thirty years. She wanted to take advantage of the insurance policy and move to assisted living so she didn’t have to take care of things anymore. During the packing process, we found her rings and her watch wrapped in cellophane and hidden far back in a deep basement closet that I wouldn’t have thought anyone had been in for years. She dismissed the incident and didn’t seem to regret having made accusations.

Because of her mental condition, eventually diagnosed as Alzheimer’s, she became very restless about everything. After a year in a lovely assisted living place, she suddenly didn’t like the people anymore and while my husband and I were away on a cruise one January, she found another place she liked better and made the commitment without me. Luckily, not much was done and I could take care of the legalities and logistics, which she couldn’t comprehend at all. She had been a Master Bridge player at one time, but couldn’t deal with details anymore.

Eve’s other friends were her age and had families, children to help them. I was the logical choice to take her to her doctors and make sure she was getting proper care. She had broken her leg and needed a surgery early on, and had a few physical problems that needed attention and oversight. Eventually, her ability to get around was better than her mental capacity. Within about five years of her husband’s death, she lost her driver’s license, couldn’t pass the driving test. Shortly after, a technician showed me the Cat Scan that made it clear there was brian disease.

We moved her three more times over the next several years, from one lovely place to another and back to the first, before the administrator of the facility asked me to come in for a meeting with the staff. Eve’s condition had progressed to a point where they could no longer be responsible for her care. She wasn’t sick, there was no reason for her to go to a hospital. But, she was a danger to herself and others. They had turned off the gas stove connection months before, but she was fighting with the staff constantly and refusing to take her medications. She would lash out and strike a staff person if she didn’t want to do what was needed, like drink water or shower. The accusations of stealing increased.

For some reason she never accused me of doing anything wrong. We had shared many years getting to know each other and enjoying each others company. I loved the stories of her life and the history behind her experience was fascinating. She grew up near the Alamo and Mexican border during the 1920’s and 30’s and remembered many things about the great depression. I have the address of her family home and plan to go there soon just to see what it looks now, since I finally have the time and have never been to the Alamo. The house her father built is still there. She had owned her own photography business, took pictures of babies, during WWII and a bit after. She said you could never take a bad picture of a baby, the parents would buy all you developed. I loved her and I think deep down she knew that and loved me, too.

The administrators of the assisted living facility recommended a dementia care home that just happened to be four minutes from my house. It was February, 2007, and my husband had been in intensive care with sepsis the previous September. He had never fully recovered. It would be a year before I sold my business, where I was only working part time now and mostly from home. So I was very happy to meet the lovely lady who owned the dementia care home. It was a perfect situation for the three of us.

Eve went downhill rapidly after the move. She was getting around pretty well at first, walking to the dining area and participating a little in an activity or two. She started losing her purse right away. She would call to tell me it had been stolen. It would be found in someone else’s room, but we didn’t tell her. After she passed I found pictures of other people and their families among her things. She had evidently left her purse in other residents rooms while looking at their family pictures. She started calling me in the middle of the night, I would say everything was fine, that I would see her tomorrow and she would hang up. She’d call two minutes later and start the conversation over again. She could still dial the numbers that were sitting next to her bed. She started calling strangers so we removed the phone. She didn’t seem to notice. If it wasn’t there, she didn’t think to use it.

I was still taking her to lunch weekly but she seemed to enjoy it less and not even realize she was away from her home. One Sunday on the way back she asked me to buy her some cigarettes. Yes, she was still smoking. It was a real nuisance because she wouldn’t remember to go out onto the patio, which we had chosen because she would be furious if she couldn’t smoke. When we returned to her place, I got out of the car to walk her in and handed her the bag with the cigarettes. She looked at it and then at me. She said, “These aren’t mine.” I said, “Yes they are. You asked me to buy them for you.” She said, “No, you take them. I don’t smoke.” I assume the disease had changed the part of her brain that remembered to smoke.

A few days later Eve tripped and broke her hip. She was taken to the emergency hospital. Before I could even get there, I received a call that they were bringing her back to the apartment. They couldn’t do surgery, she was too old and frail. They could just give her morphine. Within a few days, on June 5, 2007 Eve passed away. As is often the case with the elderly, it was the fall and broken bones that took her life.

Eve was one of those most interesting characters you come across only once in a while. I miss her.

Until soon, I wish you love and great friendships.

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